Tina Brown’s vivid biography of the Princess of Wales, The Diana Chronicles, is, many of its fans would say, one of the great royal books. Now Brown, the founding editor of The Daily Beast (full disclosure: she hired this reporter) is back with a new royal tome, The Palace Papers, which will likely become required reading for gossip-page addicts and royal historians alike.
It covers the extraordinary arc of the last 25 years of royal history since Princess Diana died, but, inevitably perhaps, the juiciest part of the book is dominated by the Sussex drama.
Among the bombshells in Brown’s book are the revelation that his then-girlfriend Cressida Bonas first encouraged Harry to get therapy after he “poured out resentments” to her, and that he was hooked up by MI6 with world class therapists used to helping spies recalibrate after dangerous missions, as a result.
However, Cressida got tired not just of life in the media spotlight but also of Harry’s endless complaints about the press and “date nights” consisting of little more than watching Netflix at his messy home and ended the relationship.
Brown also says that arguments between William and Harry over their areas of philanthropic influence became “Olympic rows” as Harry felt his brother was “hogging the best briefs,” especially environmental and conservation causes.
The Sussexes, on the day I speak (by phone) to Brown, are very much back in the news thanks to Harry telling Hoda Kotb that part of the purpose of his visit to the queen was to make sure his grandmother was being properly “protected.”
“When that came up on my phone I was just rocked. I sat there thinking, ‘This is unbelievably arrogant to the rest of the family,’” Brown says, adding, “Where was Harry for the queen, during the pandemic? Where was he for the queen during the poignant waning days of Philip? Where was he for the queen at Philip’s memorial service?
“All he’s done is cause her tremendous anxiety and pain. And then he comes back and says, ’I’m here to see that she’s protected.’ It was a really deluded remark and I’m sure it sent the rest of the family off a ledge….Charles, Anne, Edward and William must be hopping mad. It just blows my mind that he’d say such a thing.”
Harry also claimed last week that the interventionist ghost of his mother has “done her bit” with William and is now “very much helping him.”
“I think he is out of touch with reality,” Brown said. “I think he has developed an enormously inflated ego and sense of himself [as evidenced by] his smirking comment about, ’I have such a special relationship with the queen.’ Frankly it’s all just really out of order and wrong.
“The queen is very, very fond of him but for him to laud his relationship with the queen, at a time when he should, frankly, be glad that she received him at all, seems really out of whack to me.“
Harry’s comments about his favored status with the queen—he actually said: “We have a really special relationship, we talk about things that she can’t talk about with anybody else”—recalls a section in the book where Brown writes about Harry and Meghan being “drunk on the fantasy” that they could reshape the world in the early days of their marriage.
“They stoke each other with this illusion that they’ve been put on the earth to save the world,” Brown says. “It’s a laudable goal, but wildly unspecific. Harry has an absolute winner with Invictus [the event for wounded servicemen he founded]. That’s the best thing he’s ever done. It works brilliantly and is noble and wonderful, but otherwise they’ve been sitting in Montecito for two years, making announcements. I just don’t think it behooves them to be lecturing anyone.”
Brown writes fascinatingly about the relationship between Harry and William, and how much of a hole Harry’s departure has left in his older brother’s life.
“It’s been a great loss for William, I’m told,” Brown says. “He is deeply, deeply saddened by it, but he won’t talk about it, because he is triggered by it. He had no idea that this could happen, that this would be not just a tiff or a falling out but a deep and bitter estrangement that seems to have no exit right now.”
The present circumstances make the possibility of Harry and Meghan returning for the Platinum Jubilee a distant one.
“I don’t think Meghan ever wants to go back to England,” Brown says. “I think she hates England. I think she feels England rejected her and she has rejected England and it’s not in her interest to return to England at all. I gather Harry has talked about having maybe some kind of mediator working with William, but honestly, I think the two brothers need to go down to the pub together, and embrace and have a shouting match and clear the air.”
Then there were Harry’s odd comments claiming ownership over Diana’s ghost—“It’s almost as though she’s done her bit with my brother and now she's very much helping me,” Harry told Kotb.
“It was a juvenile comment,” says Brown. “Harry was always thought to be a somewhat reckless and impetuous character but he’s proving to be more so as the years go by rather than less so. The Spencers are a hot-headed family. My feeling is that Harry is now all Spencer all the time and William has become a Windsor; he’s careful, he’s prudent, he’s considered, he’s calm, he’s a composed character who does a lot of thinking before he agrees to things. He’s always known his destiny and he’s embraced it. But Harry, you know, he just never got the memo that he’s the second son.”
As bad as the relationship with William is, Harry’s relationship with Charles seems to be even worse judging from Brown’s book.
“It’s a great, great tragedy for Charles,” says Brown. “He was so incredibly fond of Harry, so protective of Harry. He adored Harry. In fact, many felt his relationship with Harry was much closer than it was with William, and I think that Charles is genuinely baffled as to how things could have got this bad.”
One thing could easily explain it—if claims made by the writer Christopher Andersen that it was Charles who is the so-called royal racist are true. Does Brown believe them?
“I’ve no idea—that I don’t know about. But we’ll never know that. I don’t know. Something obviously did happen, something seems to have happened that made it irrevocable. Harry has said in a previous interview ‘Our father was there for us.’ Now, he’s not even prepared to say he misses his brother and his father. It must be painful for both of them.”
Harry’s comments suggesting the queen had untrustworthy advisers reminded me of another section in Brown’s book, where she talks about Harry’s disparagement of the queen’s private secretary, Edward Young.
Young, at short notice, canceled a private meeting between Harry and the queen in the early days of the exit negotiations, because, Brown says, Young feared Harry was trying to short-circuit the institutional procedures by approaching the queen on a personal level about a constitutional matter. “People want to get around the apparatus and ask the question themselves in person, because they are much more likely to get a yes,” as she puts it.
Was the interview with Kotb another attack on Young?
“Absolutely. There was a sense of ‘Here we go again,’” Brown says, “And I have no doubt that in the short 15-minute meeting with Charles [which preceded Harry and Meghan’s meeting with the queen] that meeting was about Charles saying to Harry, ‘Look, when you see the queen, you’re seeing the queen as your grandmother, she’s delighted to see you as your grandmother, she has nothing but warm feelings for you as your grandmother, but don’t try to start lobbying her about institutional issues.’
“I’m sure that that was what was relayed to Harry because he seems to have completely forgotten the drill. As I write in the book, there is a distinction which they all understand about whether you’re going to see the queen as mummy or granny, or are you going to see the queen as Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. And if it’s the latter, then she’s going to have her executive team with her, her private secretaries and her aides and so on, who will be there with notes and agendas as they should be. She’s the CEO of the monarchy and if you try to get around her, she needs the people around her to make sure that she is protected—protected from Harry.“
Harry and Meghan have discovered leaving the royal family to be more complicated than anticipated.
“From my own reporting, I know that they have found it much harder than they expected to be out there as a freelance brand,” says Brown. “Although the palace are quite frustrating, quite sclerotic, and quite old-fashioned, there’s nothing more persuasive than a phone call which begins, ‘This is Buckingham Palace here.’ Those calls can get you anything. They don’t have that support any more. They just have to rely on PRs they hire in California. And PRs they hire in California really don’t understand anything at all about royal mystique or charisma. And what they’ve done has greatly decreased their royal mystique and charisma—and it’s decreasing every day that they live in Montecito with a PR apparatus that is not the Palace.”
Then there is Prince Andrew. and why the queen allowed herself to be walked into church by him at Prince Philip’s memorial service so soon after he settled a sex case, reportedly with millions of dollars of her money.
“She’s vulnerable to her children’s influence,” Brown says. “This is why she needs to have a private secretary with her when she makes those kinds of decisions, because she’s also a mother. It also speaks to her own feeling of vulnerability that day. It was a very emotional occasion for her. Perhaps she was grateful for her son’s arm as she walked down the aisle.”
Brown does not think we will see Andrew again at the Jubilee celebrations this summer.
“But Andrew is closest to her of any of them, and he has nothing to do,” Brown says. “In any family there is one child who is closest to the aging parent, who lives nearer, and can run over there and be on call, and inevitably gets closer to the aging parent. How much more lobbying is he going to do to the queen? Are we going to wake up one day and find that the queen willed him Sandringham? I think there’s a lot of nervousness right now about the proximity of Andrew to the queen. She is vulnerable. And it isn’t good form at all for Andrew to try to use his position to get her to do things that he knows are not in her interest.”